Will I cross the line in the blogging world?
October 19, 2008 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Where do you draw the line with information on a blog?

I started a blog about my father's death, and I'm not sure what to post and what not to. When my dad died, I spent about two weeks writing pretty regularly and have a wealth of material, but my dad wasn't exactly a saint, hell, he wasn't even that nice of a guy, so my feelings about his death are complicated. I have pretty uncomfortable memories resulting from his secrets and lies that extend beyond his actual death. My mom won't know about it, my grandma won't see it, but some people I know will certainly read it. What are the repercussions of not sticking to the traditional, "OH this person was such a great person and what a loss" eulogizing? I'm new to blogging. Never done it before.
posted by bash to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What are you hoping to accomplish by publishing it to the world instead of writing it in a diary for yourself?
posted by Houstonian at 8:57 AM on October 19, 2008

I don't think there are any particular standards to appeal to because the medium is blogging. Normal social standards may apply, however. Some may not like what you're writing and resent you for it.

The only difference with blogging -- as opposed to, say, speaking these thoughts to another person in private -- is it has the potential to be read by anyone with enough interest to search it out. If you're concerned about this, change the relevant names and locations, and offer up a key to those who you'd like to share the information with.
posted by nitsuj at 8:58 AM on October 19, 2008

I find that figuring out how much information you're comfortable with disclosing is one of the hardest things about blogging (and writing in general, but especially blogging).

My advice, if possible, is to take it slow: be conservative at first. Err on the side of the mild and impersonal, and you'll discover your comfort zone with time, as you gradually incorporate more and more details.

In the case of your father's death, it sounds like you want to write about it NOW, while it's fresh in your mind. I recommend that you 'blog' privately, writing your entries in a text file and not publishing them right away. Sit on them for a little while, look them over in a month, and publish them then if it still seems like a good idea to you. Maybe you need to air your grievances about your father publicly/semi-publicly, as a blog would allow you to do. Or maybe you just need to get them out there for yourself. Do the latter first, and then see about the former.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 9:00 AM on October 19, 2008

Many people writing blogging their family don't include identifying information. e.g. identify yourself by first name or nickname only, refer to your Dad only as Dad, refer to siblings by nicknames, etc. This is not to keep yourself completely anonymous, but just so anybody that googles your or his name doesn't arrive at the blog. You should assume that your friends and family will see it (will none of those people who do read it ever mention anything you wrote to your mom or grandma?). That doesn't necessarily mean you can't write about the hard subjects, but assuming they'll never hear of it is not a good way to go.

This is nothing new in the world of blogging, but how your family in particular will respond is not something anyone here can tell you.
posted by winston at 9:01 AM on October 19, 2008

Anytime you post something on the internet, assume that your friends and family will find it eventually. Don't post anything you aren't comfortable with your mother, grandmother, boss, or potential new employers reading.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:08 AM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I should specify that the blog isn't about my dad being a prick. It's just that grief is complicated, and I'd like to reflect that in my work.

This is all good advice. No names will be used. And I'll go slow, for sure. I've been working on the text for more than 6 months now, so I'm sort of beyond the journal part of the deal.

I'm writing the blog because when my dad died, I didn't find anything to read that helped me through the process. Everything was vague and impersonal (except for that Joan Didion book), but I would like to throw some words out there just in case someone needs what I needed. I hope I can provide that.
posted by bash at 9:09 AM on October 19, 2008

There are a lot of ways to blog semi-privately. Password-protection is one way, keeping search engines from indexing it is another way. Most kinds of blog software allow you to publish certain posts with password protection, or save them privately, so you can think about anything you write before you publish it.

Why will some people you know "certainly" read it? Are you planning on sending them the link? If not, I don't see why you'd assume they'll find it. If so, consider why you want them to read this. It's not necessarily a bad idea; I have always preferred to do things in writing, and with a bit of distance, so we don't need to see the first, unthinking responses.

As a general rule, I'd suggest giving every single person in your blog a pseudonym, masking relevant facts (dates, locations, jobs, anything even possibly identifiable), and making sure you don't put up photos, an email address with your name, etc. It's easy to add more information later, but hard to put stuff back in the box.
posted by jeather at 9:10 AM on October 19, 2008

I remember reading about your father's death on MeFi back in May. I'm so sorry for your loss, one made (it sounds like) extremely complicated by your relationship with him and who he was as a person. I understand the idea of blogging as a form of self-therapy -- the idea of sharing as a way of untangling the emotions you have around an event.

I don't think anyone can tell you what way of mourning/dealing with complicated feelings is best for you personally, but I do think it's a good idea to figure out what your end goal is, and what is the best way to get there.

In terms of yourself: there are a lot of nasty people on the internet who use anonymity as a mode of indulging their sadistic and antisocial tendencies. Are you ready to have these people commenting on your blog, emailing you, giving you a piece of their mind, telling you exactly what they think of you? Are you in an emotional place where you can discount the input of cruel sociopaths? Or will it affect you?

In terms of other people: Will your mom definitely not know about it? Will your grandma? What would be the repercussions if they did? I think a lot of people assume that their semi-private e-thoughts will never end up before the people whom they revolve around, but the internet is a surprisingly small place, and even if your mom or grandma don't stumble across your blog and recognize the person in it, there's a reasonable chance someone they know will, and will think it in their best interests to bring it to your mom or grandma's attention. This is a real risk when putting information online, and you probably ought to consider it more than you already have. I think it's important to think of the anonymity that the internet pretends to offer as weak and fleeting, and to not do or say anything on it that you don't feel ready to acknowledge before someone you love.

There are also a wealth of positive outcomes from posting your thoughts on a blog: connecting with people who may have or have had a similar person in their life as your father was for you, the freedom of actually talking about you complicated feelings, and the tremendous amount of relief that comes from articulating your feelings for another person, because you have to analyze and understand your feelings in order to articulate them. Some of these things you can do with a therapist (if you can find a therapist whom you really connect to; no guarantee of that) but the first one, connecting with other sympathetic people, is an internet-only blog specialty. And in terms of how a blog may affect your mom or grandmother, that's certainly something to consider, but the first person to consider is yourself, and how best to help yourself through this.

Personally, and please take this with a grain of salt, you may feel completely different: I feel better sharing with only a few people. I've done the other way around, acting like a sort of Ancient Mariner of my own sadness, and at the end I feel empty and numb. Something that has been an exceptional anodyne for me in times of complicated, ambivalent grief has been Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, Herter Norton translation.

I hope this is a little helpful, and I do wish you well during such difficult times, and during the difficult times that are to come before things begin get better.
posted by MaddyRex at 9:36 AM on October 19, 2008

I really am focused on connecting with others, and if some dorks come along and act like buttholes, I think the good will eventually outweigh the bad.

I went through and reread my posts, and I think my blog is actually pretty benign. Or at least nonspecific, mostly. (the good thing about having drunk parents is that they don't remember anything.)

I can handle the criticism. I'm good at that. (I'm a writer and editor, so that's all I get, really.) Even mean people. I can deal with those. I've performed part of the pieces on the blog in a public forum, have had part of it published in an anthology, etc. Paper just seems safer than the internet, you know?

If you want to look at the content and give me your opinion from there, it's in my profile. (which also might be a bad place to put it?) This is all very confusing new territory.

Also, I have an awesome therapist and have been seeing her for four years. She reads the blog too, so I think she would call me out in some fashion if she thought I was being nutso.
posted by bash at 9:58 AM on October 19, 2008

I read a few of your posts, and I think it's exactly what I hoped it would be. It focused on you and your grief. You have beautiful words, and I don't think anyone who knew your dad or you would feel offended -- I think they would be touched. In fact, I would recommend sharing them with your family, who is also grieving.

Your stories seem to focus on a specific aspect of your tale, but resonate with others (or at least me) -- your story about the gyro (my story, memories of my mother, has a hamburger from the 59 Diner), the whiteboard with no goals (my story, a list of completely untested chemos when the tested ones had all run out), the fishing pole (my mom had "best" linens, always saved for some future day which never came for her)... these are stories that people can relate to.
posted by Houstonian at 10:24 AM on October 19, 2008

You make your own rules for your own blog, period. :) Nothing is taboo on the internets.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:07 AM on October 19, 2008

My mom won't know about it...

No. That's where you're going wrong.

I can't tell you exactly what standards to have for your blog, but I can tell you this: assume that everyone in the world will read your blog. It is possible to restrict a blog to a few people you authorize, but since I can read your blog, you clearly haven't put any such restriction on it. If I can read your blog, your mom can read it. I have no idea what your mom's age is or whether she's internet savvy, but she and everyone else in the world can read it. Even if she's 75 years old and has never used the internet, she still might read it. She might learn how to use the internet in the future, or other people might tell her about your blog's contents.

If you or people close to you are ever going to apply to a job in the future, you should assume that the prospective employer will read the most personal stuff on your blog.

Now, I see that you apparently don't use your real name on your blog. But a couple things about that: (1) You're likely to want to start using your name at some point in the future (which would be a good idea, as explained in this blog post). (2) The people who know it's your blog will tend to be people who are close to you, and they're the ones who are most likely to care (in a positive or negative sense) about what you write. (3) There are many ways people might make the connection -- for instance, I can see your email address through your Mefi profile and connect your first and last name (and other info) to your blog. Other bloggers (or Facebook users) might link to you and not realize they're not supposed to say, "Well, [first & last name] just said ____ on her blog."

Remember that just because you personally have no problem with XYZ-type information about yourself being publicly known, it doesn't follow that everyone you might choose to write about is comfortable with that info being publicly known. I know you said you wouldn't use real names of other people, and that's fine as far as it goes -- but there are personal things about me that I wouldn't want people blogging about even if I were only referred to as "my son" or "my brother" or "my nephew" or "my cousin."

It's not true that "nothing is taboo on the internet," as someone said above. Lots of things are taboo, especially on the internet. Everyone has things about themselves that they would be very mad if they were made public. It's OK to blog about personal stuff, but you need to balance this against respect for people's privacy and awareness of the permanent, public nature of the internet.

Remember that even if you decided to delete the blog one day, it's possible for search engines to retain caches of the content. For your purposes, assume that there will be no way for you to delete anything you've written.

One tip: you mention that you do want to connect with people but you could imagine this being overshadowed by jerks who try to screw it up. On my blog, I set the preferences for comments so that they don't get posted until I approve them individually. I find that to be a good way to balance civility and appropriateness vs. freedom of expression. Of course, you could turn off comments entirely; if someone really has something to add, they can send you an email and you can choose to quote their email on the blog.

Again, I can't tell you "Don't write about this" or "Do write about that." I can only describe how the internet works. Anything you write on a publicly accessible blog is published to the whole world, just as if you had written it in an internationally published book. In fact, no -- it's much more accessible than if you had written it in a book. The conventional wisdom that "everything's temporary on the internet" is exactly backwards. Everything is permanent on the internet.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:56 AM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I had similar feelings about my father when he died - feelings that were about things which I have discussed in real life with perhaps three people, one of which was paid to listen. Naturally I didn't want to talk about it with relatives, but it helped me to get it out (and as you say, we're encouraged to never speak ill of the dead, particularly close relatives). I tend ot 'blog' on Livejournal, where I can filter entries or make them completely private if I just want to clear my head. In this way, it was a way of explaining things quickly to people who didn't know and were wondering why I wasn't as sad as they'd expect. I also use a username on there and because of my job operate on the principle that someone might Google me at some point, so the filter system is good for me. I believe Vox has it too.

One book I found useful, btw, was You'll Get Over It by Virginia Ironside. It really means a lot that there are other people with the same mixed feelings, and I'm really glad you're willing to blog them.
posted by mippy at 3:00 PM on October 19, 2008

PS: I'd be interested in reading it if you want to MeMail me the address.
posted by mippy at 3:02 PM on October 19, 2008

My friend's marriage broke up because of something she'd posted on her blog, which she assumed her husband would never see since she used a pseudonym. Oops. I agree with Jaltcoh; assume it will be read.
posted by desjardins at 7:25 PM on October 19, 2008

It's not true that "nothing is taboo on the internet," as someone said above. Lots of things are taboo, especially on the internet. Everyone has things about themselves that they would be very mad if they were made public. It's OK to blog about personal stuff, but you need to balance this against respect for people's privacy and awareness of the permanent, public nature of the internet.

I still disagree. People write autobiographies all the time that don't say the nicest things about others. It's up to YOU what you want to write. I'm just saying that there is no line that exists "out there" somewhere. It's in your own head. If you worry about others reading it, go anon. If you're not, don't.

(The only tangible lines being "libel" and "slander" ... I'm not sure what the laws are regarding the deceased, etc.)

Agreed that you must assume that everyone might read it. Never go into it thinking, "he or she will never see this." They may not, but they may. Or someone else might come along later in your life who you might not want reading it, and then it's too late. It's everyone or no one!
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:29 PM on October 19, 2008

Here's a handy tip that serves me. Want to post something on the Internet? Imagine that every person on the planet has already read it and knows that you, you personally, your real name, wrote it.

That's fine? Don't mind? Go ahead, post it.

Not fine? Do mind? Don't post it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:19 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

ikkyu2, if we all thought like that the Internet would be a series of shopping lists.

That's not to say that there are topics that shouldn't be discussed publically - I know there are things I keep to myself, and the anonymous function is on this (and other) fora for a reason. Pseudonyms also exist for a reason - so we can discuss the ordinarily undiscussable.
posted by mippy at 4:31 AM on October 20, 2008

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